Date of Award

12-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Melanie Hildebrandt

Second Advisor

J. Beth Mabry

Third Advisor

Valerie Gunter

Abstract

Decades of population loss have weakened the tax bases of American cities across the Northeast and Midwest. Unable to repair deteriorating infrastructure and provide basic services, local governments have attempted to revitalize their downtowns, which in many cities contain few residents. A robust housing market is key to revitalization efforts because the presence of residents creates demand for shops and restaurants. However, commercial developers have been reluctant to build downtown housing, fearing that limited access to jobs and services would discourage people from living there. Ample research is available on downtown revitalization in large cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York, but the literature generally neglects smaller urban areas, which have different challenges and opportunities. This qualitative case study explores how resident and institutional housing market actors collectively revitalize the downtown of a small, post-industrial, and economically distressed city. Analysis of archival records, documentation, observations, and interviews reveals tensions around local development challenges, competition between revitalization drivers, access to development incentives, and narratives of space. Policies that foster civic leadership, encourage multiple revitalization drivers, limit cultural change, and encourage transparency in lending may help cities balance economic development needs with social equity goals.

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